Wednesday 31 March 2021

A Service of Shadows

Since 2011 we have held a Tenebrae service on the evening of Maundy Thursday - a quiet reflection on the events at the end of Holy Week. 
This year, we have recorded it and it will be on YouTube tomorrow. You can share in it here

March Past

It is the last day of March. The year is already one quarter through - we've passed the equinox, and altered the clocks. On Monday I celebrated 13 years of blogging. In the next 12 days Bob and I shall celebrate Easter**, celebrate my 66th birthday, I'll become an Old Age Pensioner, he will conduct his final service at Ferndown on April 11th ...and then on the 12th, the Big Adventure of moving to Cornerstones and entering Retirement. 

It has been a very strange year. I remember vividly our journey back to Dorset after our Christmas trip to Norfolk at the end of 2019. Bob was driving and I was taking notes of our conversation. As we understood it then, preparation for retirement had four strands - 

  1. seriously downsizing the contents of the Manse. Selling stuff, giving it away, recycling it.
  2. working out what needs to happen at Cornerstones [eg new garage, new handbasin, patio door replacement, paint the lounge etc]
  3. helping to equip UCF to operate without a minister in the gap till the next one comes - handing over jobs, leaving necessary information, and generally encourage the fellowship to continue doing all the good stuff in the church and the community.
  4. plus planning in a three week stay in Manchester with Steph after the baby arrived, when Gary returned to work after his paternity leave.
How easily our plans can be thrown into the air - I went to Manchester in early March for Steph's Baby Shower. It was so good to see her, and her lovely MIL Andrea. And I came back on the [almost empty] train- which was very late into Euston. My original plan had been to walk to Waterloo - but timings meant I caught the tube instead - which was jam packed with commuters. And then there was my dry cough, and the anosmia, and the self-isolation- and Bob got ill...[I didn't say here just how ill he was]...but we recovered 
And all the plans were abandoned.
Church life shifted to Zoom and WhatsApp - no more services in the building, meetings in the Church Hall, or homegroups and pastoral visits in people's houses. Bob's study became a recording studio - and instead of play costumes I was making headbands to hold facemasks, and pyjamas for the teddybears. For the first time in forever, I wasn't planning Holiday Club Crafts.
George arrived and we met him online. It was all a bit emotional. #4 on our list had been abandoned. We finally got to Manchester in June, and sat in the garden with our new grandson. Then on to Norfolk to find a leaky boiler, and Rosie unsettled, missing Nursery, and no real contact with anyone other than her Mum and Dad. I spent the summer 'in a bubble' at Cornerstones, teaching Rosie, and enabling her parents to get their work done.
Item #1 on the retirement list was sorely neglected, and #2 was impossible. #3 was the only thing that really did get sorted- but in such a different way. Training people in preparing YouTube services, organising PA gear and cameras for future Livestream events. Setting up WhatsApp groups and PhoneBuddy teams. In 40 years, I have never been conscious of Bob working so hard, learning new skills in record time, under such strange and stressed conditions.
One year on and Steph's back at work, George is settling in well at Nursery, Rosie is loving school, and I thank the Lord that the family are thriving. What an unexpected twelve months...but we have got through it! 

Everyone has a different story to tell - so sad, some happy. We must not forget the lessons we have learned about kindness and caring, giving and sharing - I hope that now the evenings are lighter, and rules are gradually being relaxed, we can all work towards a brighter, safer, healthier year ahead.
**three special UCF services this weekend - look out for details.

Tuesday 30 March 2021

Works Of Heart

The French artist Degas said "Art is not what you see, but what you make others see". The artists have certainly been busy down in this neck of the woods during the past year. Here are three 'local' pieces which have been in the news in recent days. I say 'local' - because prior to the pandemic, their locations were all close enough to visit on a Day Off. No such jaunts at the minute, but here they are anyway.

The nearest piece is at Christchurch Priory. This building dates back 900 years - and like many such buildings, has an extensive, ongoing conservation programme. Back in February 2020 a competition was announced to design some new replacement "gargoyles and grotesques" The Priory already has a number of contemporary carvings [check out Darren Bonner's pictures here]
I think it is wonderful that one of the new gargoyles represents an NHS worker in PPE. How fitting that up there among the carved saints and angels there is a 21st Century angel!

Until recently, we had an NHS angel living next door- a midwife at Southampton General Hospital. She came home very excitedly last May and told us that there was a new Banksy Mural in the corridor. It is entitled "Game Changer"

The robot and Batman toys are in the wpb, and the child's caped superheroine of choice is a nurse. He painted it as a thankyou to the staff during the first wave of the crisis. Last week, it sold for a record £16.8 million - and the money will go to health charities!

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery - and a number of 'Banksy Style' paintings have been appearing up and down the country of late.

Here is Dorset, om the Isle of Portland, we have artists who are twins - Lulu and Soph, who work under the name Hendog. Lulu's son is Hen[ry] and Soph has a puppy called Dog. 

Do check out their website here for quirky gifts and cards. Hendog has produced a "Banksy-style" piece for the wall of the Winchester Community Food Pantry - a young child holding a sandwich. They left a box of groceries 'with love' below the painting.

This is their second piece in Winchester- the last was a child with a rainbow kite

Do you have any covid inspired artworks near you? And how would you feel if Banksy came and painted something on your wall?

And was Degas right? Does art help us to see the world differently? 

Monday 29 March 2021

A Self-Satisfied Pork Butcher?

So what did  William Shakespeare really look like? Most people if asked would talk about high forehead, receding hairline, thin moustache, trimmed beard

Yes, like this. This is the famous engraving which appeared in the frontispiece of the First Folio, and was done by Flemish engraver Martin Droeshout. This was published in 1623, seven years after the artist's death.

Or maybe you know this painting - known as the "Chandos portrait" Painted between 1600 and 1610, many believe this was the basis for the Droeshout engraving. [It was owned by the Chandos family for 130 years] Nothing was written about it till 1719 - a century after the Bard's death. 

This painting is Number One in the National Gallery Collection - donated by Francis Egerton, 1st Earl of Edgemere, who founded this wonderful gallery.

There's also the Cobbe portrait, but that's not given much credence nowadays. Sir Roy Strong, historian, said that any suggestion it was WS was "codswallop"

But there is one more depiction of Shakespeare, which is not a two-dimensional piece- it is this effigy of Shakespeare in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford Upon Avon.

This was installed over his grave, several years after his death, and always believed to have been a posthumous memorial, not an actual likeness. 20th century critic John Dover Wilson  declared this effigy to look like "a self satisfied pork butcher" [the more I read of JDW, the less I warm to him]

And now- in 2021 - over four hundred years after Will shuffled off his mortal coil, Prof Lena Cowen Orlin [Georgetown University USA] has revealed some fascinating research. Orlin says that in the 17th century, a sculptor called Gerard Johnson was responsible for the limestone bust - but she maintains Gerard mainly created pieces for gardens- his brother, Nicholas was a tomb-maker. It is known that Nicholas produced another effigy in Stratford- for John Combe, who died in 1615 and was a friend of Shakespeare. Nicholas had a workshop in London, close to the Globe, so would have seen Shakespeare. He also travelled with his sculptures to see them installed- so he would have been in Stratford at the right time.

She believes that Shakespeare commissioned this effigy himself [this was a common thing to do] and that the painted inscription was written before his death - leaving space for a date to be added later. It's all very interesting - I guess we will never actually know.

I like to think that maybe he looked something like this. [those Coren-Mitchells are very witty, and they certainly have a way with words]

Sunday 28 March 2021

Hosanna! Palm Sunday

 Our morning service from UCF, celebrating Palm Sunday, is here

Saturday 27 March 2021

Changing My Name To Ebenezer

Bob feels my 'thrift' is going a little too far. As we get closer to The Day, I am steadfastly refusing to replace things, and "making do" with what we have. I am becoming more miserly than  Ebenezer Scrooge. Everything has to earn its place in the removal van - and I don't want to be taking unnecessary items. And I will get the last bit of use out of my supplies. "Don't use so much toothpaste! I refuse to buy another tube here- there's one in the Cornerstones bathroom already, and a spare in the cupboard" Which would be OK if the tube here had been full at the start of the month...[I have a 2nd tube in the downstairs loo, and also two little 'travel ones' from my sponge bag] 

This is empty! Bob declared, dropping the tube in the bedroom bin. A snip with a pair of scissors revealed enough for four more brushings.

I've got just three pairs of old socks here, all the rest went to Cornerstones a while ago. But these are old, thin and holey - and once my toe went through, they became uncomfortable to wear. 

My darning mushrooms are both in Norfolk"! I wailed "Only you could come out with a line like that, Ang" Bob responded. I improvised with the plastic ball that holds the elastic bands, and used some red yarn [couldn't find the black] to mend them.

I've emptied all my shampoo into one bottle, and shaken it enthusiastically. The regular stuff, two sponge bag travel samples, and that weird brown stuff which Steph gave me. It looks like a herbal cough medicine now. But there's 80ml there which should last a fortnight. If there's any left it can be used for general cleaning. Best facecloths are already in Norfolk - leaving two old ones in the bathroom, and the other old ones [including the 'baby' one I had for Liz in 1982, now so thin you can read the paper through it] have been relegated to the cleaning rags [and will be chucked when we leave] Good towels packed- and I shall pack the old thin ones we're using this month to go to the Dog Rescue place when we move out.

Actually, Ebenezer isn't that bad a name - it is Hebrew and means "God has helped me get this far" and that's definitely the case. Steph's friend has just called her new baby Tali [Talitha] - which is Aramaic, and means little girl, or little daughter [Jesus used it in Mark 5:41] I think that is really sweet [once my Embroidery machine is unpacked, I shall be sewing her a named bib]

Friday 26 March 2021


This is a long post - but I've spent a week debating whether or not to share it, and It is something that I feel strongly about...


This is Debt Awareness Week. This past year has wreaked havoc with the financial plans of thousands of families across our nation. Business have folded, people have been furloughed, lost jobs, had reduced hours and paycuts, others had to stop work because of contracting covid19 …it’s been really tough [conversely others have made vast sums of money through “greed and capitalism” – the rich get rich and the poor get poorer, as the old song goes] My immediate family have been ok, but I know others who have struggled. 

And there is still huge stigma about being in debt. People feel it is their fault, their bad choices – but that is not always the case. People hide their shame, and the unopened bills, and the situation gets worse and worse. I’m not judging anyone; I just want to say there is help available, and it is free and confidential and it can literally make all the difference. What follows is a true story…

A decade or so ago, on the Friday one week before Easter, I went upstairs to switch off my PC before going to bed. An email pinged in the inbox. I stopped and read it [despite telling myself ‘this can probably wait till morning’] It basically said

“You don’t know me, but I read your blog everyday. My life is a mess, I am in debt, my rent is overdue, I cannot pay the bills. I’m a carer for my disabled spouse. My only child lives on the other side of the world, and she is pregnant – she doesn’t know my situation. I can’t go on. I’ve put my affairs in order, and packed all my clothes for the Charity Shop. On Good Friday, I plan to take my life. I know that then my husband will be properly looked after by Social Services. I know that you are a Christian – so I am asking you to pray that God will forgive me for this. Thank you”

I called Bob – “I’ve got to help. Perhaps I could go and see her?” He wisely suggested I found out where she was. I sent a brief reply, saying I would pray, begging her to reconsider [how will your daughter explain to her child that her Grandma chose to die before she was born?] and asking her where she lived, and promising I would do all I could to help. The reply came back instantly simply naming a city hundreds of miles from Leicester.

Oh the miracle of Blogland! I had a friend in that city. I immediately emailed “Can’t go into details – but this is a life-and-death matter. Please give me the names of 4 debt agencies, in the N,S,E and W of your city” She was still at her PC – and by midnight, I’d been able to send these details to the woman in distress, saying “I promise you that any one of these will help, they won’t judge And I heard no more.

I prayed, I shared the briefest of details with church friends, they prayed. Good Friday came, and went... and I prayed, and wept…and I heard nothing. Then three weeks later – another email

“Sorry for the delay- my internet was cut off. A friend is letting me send this from her computer. I went to the debt people. They’ve sorted things out with my landlady, and helped me get everything back on track. Things will be OK now. Thank you so much. This has saved my life

That was so wonderful to read. Then a few years later, a second email out of the blue. The lady told me she and her spouse had been moved into an adapted wheelchair friendly bungalow. People had helped furnish it, and others were tending the garden and growing vegetables for them. She thanked me again for my help and my prayers. I've heard no more since.

I was just a small link in the chain that pulled her out of the quagmire of debt. I think of that lady every year when it gets to Holy Week.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help – and don’t be afraid to offer help. Don’t let debt be a death sentence.

Thursday 25 March 2021

Taking Notes

For the last year, I've had hardly any 'cash in hand'. In March last year, both the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail published articles stating that the WHO had advised people to use contactless payments because of coronavirus. Overnight, it became almost impossible to pay by cash [in fact these two newspapers had both misquoted the WHO, but you will struggle to find an apology or correction anywhere] In fact the coronavirus does not live long on currency, and with proper hand hygiene it is OK to handle money.

The banks have progressively increased the upper limit for contactless payments, more and more shopping is done online...and 99.9% of financial transactions are cashless [there are still a few car parks which haven't gone cashfree, and some supermarkets require a pound, or a token, for the trolley] On February 20th, 2020, two weeks before all this happened, the Bank of England issued a new £20 note. Many people may not even have handled one before the country when cashless.

Here's the old paper one, and below it the new polymer note. The fronts are very similar, but the newer one is slightly smaller. 

The old one has the profile of Adam Smith the economist, the new one shows the artist 

Joseph Mallord William Turner. The picture is taken from the self-portrait he painted when he was 24, and behind him, "The Fighting Temeraire" painted in 1838 when he was 63. I have to say I prefer the newer design to the old one!

The new note almost passed me by - I certainly never blogged about it's arrival. But in recent weeks, I've been selling bits and pieces on FB and people have paid me with cash [mostly fivers - I need to clear the stuff and I'm never going to get rich this way] And then last week I sold some furniture through a local Facebook group. One lady gave me an old note, the other customer, a new one.

I compared them - and then wondered "Is this old note still valid?" A quick internet check relieved my concerns. 

Do not worry, dear readers! If you have an 'old style' £20 note in your wallet, tucked behind the clock or hidden in your knicker drawer, it is still legal tender. When the Bank of England released them on 20.02.2020, NO date was given for when they would cease to be valid. And the B of E is required to give 6 months notice for this. So these are still worth something, at least up until September ... but I am still going to pay mine into the bank soon. 

Wednesday 24 March 2021

The Finnish Diet?

Back in 2008, my friend Lesley said she was having a Finnish Summer. I thought she meant a trip to Helsinki - she actually meant a finish summer- one where she planned to finish all her craft projects, so she could start the autumn with a clean conscience, and clean craft room - nothing hanging about waiting to be completed. I told Bob that in March we would be on a finish diet - attempting to eat up everything in the freezer, and the pantry. 

For a long time now, I have been accumulating glass clip top jars for storing dry goods. Vintage 'Le Parfait' and Kilner, and newer IKEA and Wilko. Mostly from Charity shops - a run through the dishwasher, and a fresh rubber seal and they are fine! 

But they are heavy even when empty. I had a number with just a small amount of rice, flour, lentils etc left in them. I decanted the contents into plastic boxes, and set the jars aside to wash and pack. Warning! Those fittings are not interchangeable - it took two of us 35 minutes to match up 4 jars, 4 lids, 4 seals and 4 pairs of wire clips!

Bob made me promise to label the parts next time I took them to bits for washing! But now the jars are packed, and we will work our way through these boxes [noodles, rice, couscous, lentils...]
I am very fond of pretty tins - especially ones where the design is printed on the metal, and not a paper label stuck on afterwards. These seem much more common in Europe than over here - I have a lovely French biscuit tin, and a can which held lobster bisque, a Spanish paprika container, and a Belgian coffee tin. But British ones seem less common - apart from the occasional Christmas Special or commemorative tin. Waitrose pilchard tins are fun- but the picture is on the lid which gets discarded and they are rather small to keep things in. My Mamade tins are in use as pencil pots, but again, they have no lids. Liz keeps her fancy teas in Tate&Lyle tins -green Golden Syrup and red Black Treacle. The iconic "lion & bees" design dates back to 1883
This is one of my favourite tins - bought on holiday in Belgium in 2001, from the Delhaize supermarket. I have refilled it with fairtrade cocoa countless times in the last 20 years. The Belgian Delhaize brothers started their grocery business around 150 years ago, choosing the lion for their logo, and the motto 'unity is strength'. Back in the Victorian era [when packaging first became a big thing] they commissioned artists to design beautiful labels and posters [much like Pears Soap did over here]
Aren't these amazing? I suppose nowadays people want their labels to be functional and informative - with words like essentials/basics/special/deluxe 
and traffic light warnings, and calorie counts.
I remember the year these first hit the shops - late 1980s I think. They were £1 a tin. A number of generous church members gave them to us at Christmas. We had fourteen tins stacked in the corner behind the tree! I have one tin left, and like many people, I keep basic sewing supplies in it. 

Poor Rosie- she was so disappointed the first time she saw the tin at Cornerstones, and thought it was full of cookies!
Do you have a favourite tin? Are you a zero-waste glass jar fanatic?  And have you kept tins for 20 years simply because you think they are lovely?

Tuesday 23 March 2021

A Minute To Reflect, A Moment To Connect


It is exactly a year since the beginning of the first lockdown. I am glad that today has been declared a national Day of Reflection - and people are asked to pause for a minute at midday, to remember those lost, those bereaved, and those still suffering. [Our local Churches' Together are holding a Zoom Meeting] 
The Church of England offers these prayers for use today

Reflect - 
- Loving God, You hold all our times in your hands, our past, our present, our future. Be close to us now as we remember all the difficulties and disappointments of the past year. Be especially close to all of us who are thinking of someone we loved and knew, but see no longer, whether family, friend, colleague or neighbour. Help us to trust that they are at peace with you, and comfort us with your presence. 

Connect -
 - Loving God, You place us in families and communities, and we give you thanks for all those around us who serve us and help us in so many ways. Give wisdom to community leaders, to our schools, hospitals, care homes and other agencies who make a difference to our lives. Help each of us to have the courage to reach out with thanks and kindness to those around us and to speak words of faith as we share the good news of your love.

Hope - 
- Loving God, As we journey towards Easter, help us to live as people of hope, knowing that beyond the pain of the cross lies the joy of resurrection. Inspire us in our worship, through our churches and in our homes, that we may bring glory to you and joy to others. Be with those who are struggling in mind, body or spirit, and give courage to those who are facing uncertainty and change ahead. Help each of us to keep our eyes fixed on you, that we may reflect your light to all whom we meet.


Monday 22 March 2021

I Feel A Smile Coming On...

Another piece from my friend Steve - he walks his dogs every morning, and regularly sends a 'Nature Report' - not just to us, but also to many of his friends who are unable to go outside right now, and appreciate the beauties of spring.  Thanks, Steve

"We rise quite early each day and stagger downstairs to meet the day. The big problem with the lighter mornings is that we are missing the dawn chorus. So things have changed, a couple of morning each week we miss the tea and the sleep and leave a little earlier so to be able to catch that magnificent call of the wild. It certainly has been a changeable couple of weeks - hailstones one day, rain, high winds and then that wonderful gentle and soft balmy morning that shows it is spring.

The ivy has some huge clusters of blue-black berries and the honeysuckle is sending up new shoots so as to get a head start on the other creepers like the bramble. 

The elder is showing new growth and the English bluebells have green shoots above the ground. These are almost single flowers as opposed to the Spanish which seem to have taken over in this area. The grass in the fields is looking quite lush and has enjoyed the rain and sun.

She is back …the roe doe. We have seen her twice in the last couple of weeks gently grazing on the new rich grass and just wandering about in the dappled sunlight amongst the trees. The Squirrel is charging about up and down the trees. 

Mr Mole is also very busy on the path - he leaves evidence of where he has been with small mounds of finely sieved soil. All sorts of birds can be seen with twigs and various grasses in their beaks obviously nest making. What a wonderful time of year!

Upon returning home we see some magnolias just bursting into flower, in a week or so they will be absolutely fantastic. Yes... one of our peach trees is also in flower, I have uncovered it and just hope the leaf curl does not attack. We have received a delivery of geraniums and they look quite good, with the night light on perhaps they will grow and grow. There are a couple of camellias, pure white in colour in full bloom, showing off all their underskirts, a joy to behold… and I feel a smile coming on!"

Don't you just love the idea of the camellias displaying their fine white petticoats? I've had a tiny bit of gardening success too - when my friend Jenny looked after my orchids whilst I was in Norfolk last summer, you may recall that one had a 'baby' offshoot. Well this week it has had its first flower!  I put the signpost from my Christmas Cake in the pot in January - it seems quite appropriate, now we are about to move. 

I agree with Steve - springtime does give us something to smile about

Sunday 21 March 2021

Falling Down, Lifting Up

The link for today's UCF Service is here. The Bible passage is John 12; 20-27, and I'm doing the preaching [Bob thought I should do it one more time before we move. I've no idea when I will get to preach again!] 

Saturday 20 March 2021


When I started writing my blog, 13 years ago, I knew already that I would call it 'Tracing Rainbows' - it's from one of my favourite hymns, and reminds me that God's grace is there, everyday - however apparently awful life might be - He will see me through it.

Five years ago, I published a review of a book called Still Emily, where my friend Emily Owen wrote about her diagnosis of Neurofibromatosis2, which causes tumours to grow all all over her body - and how, in her teens, one grew in her brain. The resultant operation caused one side of her face to drop - and total deafness. Tumours also affected her mobility and balance.  She writes of the devastating blow this was, to a highly intelligent young woman who had been a promising athlete and musician....and yet, although there were moments of despair, she was able to "see rainbows in the silence" and feel God's grace and presence helping her through. It's a moving, challenging book, and well worth reading.

Emily has written a number of books, mostly "Christian Devotional Study Books" in the past few years - and she also does a lot of public speaking - she was the guest speaker at the second WDP "Y-Pray" Conference a few years back.

When she was 13, and the signs of NF2 were beginning to appear, her mother encouraged her to keep a diary. [Her Mum is lovely, wise, and supportive, and definitely Emily's Chief Cheerleader] And now, the Christian Publishing House "Authentic" has printed "My Diary - Emily Owen". - a retelling of her story for children

On World Book Day, I was one of a privileged group invited by Emily to the Official Launch on Zoom. [I know, I was really excited!] Obviously I knew her story, and was interested to see how she did it. As with her first book, she picks up the rainbows idea- and halfway through she describes the consultation where she is told  "We operate and you lose your hearing, or we don't and you die"...and how on the journey home in the car, it rained and she saw one rainbow after another. She knew it was a sign of God's promises to her, and she determined to find something good in every day. And the remainder of the book has lots of #everydayrainbows.

Emily has lots of younger friends, who think she is great [she is] and she wisely asked her niece to help her with ensuring the language was intelligible and contemporary [without any false attempt to be cool and do yoof-speak] 

The sections are short and the vocabulary isn't too hard. She talks about her "wonky face" and injects humour and sunshine, even into the difficult parts. I certainly enjoyed reading it. At the end there are helpful 'reflective questions'

The blurb says "suitable for readers in KS2" - I think I'd want to say 'top of KS2' - aged 10 or 11, rather than 7 or 8 year olds. Many of the younger children I know would struggle a bit with it, I feel.  Perhaps I'm wrong - I know that Malala's book is aimed at age 7+, and that covers equally tough topics.

Because the story clearly involves Emily's faith and her church-going family, it would probably be better understood by kids with some experience of what people do in church life [beach missions, church picnics, Sunday school etc]  However the questions at the end are a good talking point for the reader and an adult to work through together. We cannot shield children from the realities of pain and suffering, and I think this book helps to provide a framework for discussion about hard topics like that. 

So if you are looking for a gift, or a "Sunday School Prize" [do they still give those out, in these strange times?] then this would be on my list of suggestions. It is a bit 'pink and girlie' - I'd be interested to hear what a 10 yr old boy thought of it. At the launch, they showed a video of some of Em's younger friends - boys and girls- talking about their friendship and what they'd learned from her. The concept of finding #everydayrainbows is definitely a good thing to teach children.

At the start of the book launch, a 2 minute video was shown. I would like to thank Emily and Authentic for allowing me to add this to the end of my review. Although I'd be more specific about which children I'd give the book to, I'd still rate it *****

Friday 19 March 2021

Shrinking Violets

It's an interesting phrase, isn't it shrinking violet ? The dictionary defines it as an excessively shy or retiring person. The violet has long had associations with qualities such as faithfulness, chastity, but especially with modesty. Wild violets are dainty plants whose small flowers are often hidden among its leaves and they are frequently inconspicuous among larger plants. It’s no surprise that this self-effacing species should have become linked to the idea of modesty.

The term shrinking violet was first used by the poet, Leigh Hunt, in an article written in 1820, in a magazine called The indicator [Hunt lived in London, the son of American colonists] but the idea of this shy quality also appears in a poem by Wordsworth, written in 1798 – the title is “She dwelt among the untrodden ways” and it is one of his ‘Lucy’ poems

A violet by a mossy stone, half hidden from the eye!

—Fair as a star, when only one is shining in the sky.

There's a patch of grass on the corner at the bottom of our road. Last year there were two lots of road works nearby, and large metal containers were parked there. The grass was totally destroyed - twice- but it was reseeded, and has grown back lush and green. As I walked back from the shop yesterday, I noticed these tiny violets hidden in the grass. [Going down, I'd been on the other side of the road, and totally missed them] You could only see them if you were up close. They were so pretty and delicate. To the amusement of the kids on their way home from school, I knelt down and took a couple of photos.

This plant has been popular since classical times because of its medicinal value and its perfume. A curiosity of the active chemical constituent of the latter is that after a few seconds it briefly inhibits the sense of smell. This was very useful in times when hygiene was not so good, and homes, and city streets were smelly places! 

Violets were added to the rushes on the floors to sweeten rooms and posies were carried by ladies, or pinned to gentlemen’s lapels to block out the stink of the streets. At the start of the 20th Century, violets were the third most important commercially grown flower, after carnations and roses.

George Bernard Shaw, in his play "Pygmalion" made his heroine, Eliza Doolittle, a London Street Seller. She walked through the theatre crowds round Covent Garden calling out to sell her "Violets! Sweet Violets!" Such women earned pennies, despite working long hours, walking in all weathers trying to persuade the wealthy passers by to buy fragrant, delicate blooms. In contrast, the women themselves were cold, and damp and dirty. When the play was made into a musical, one of the most popular songs is set in Covent Garden, when Eliza sings of her hopes and dreams of a better life, somewhere Loverly. 

I do hope the shrinking violets at the end of my road flourish - I understand these plants are often self-seeded, and have vigorous underground runners, so they stand a good chance of thriving. I think that would be really loverly!


Thursday 18 March 2021


 A few months ago, I posted this clever Bryan Bilston poem which I read in a book which Liz lent me, and I posted a picture of all the shopping bags which were lurking at Cornerstones. 
I'm like a magpie - I hoard bright pretty things


you have bags of bags

in your bags 

you keep more bags all bagged up 

in bags for life.

if there was a competition for number of bags

you would have it

in the bag

i don't know why you need so many bags

its not as if you have anything to put in them

except other bags.

Liz, my Chief Encourager in the decluttering, told me about the Magpie Project in Tower Hamlets. This charity helps women, who have children aged under 5, who find themselves in temporary accommodation.
Liz said currently they are appealing for cotton tote bags, to enable them to put together bags of clothes & toiletries etc for the Mums. 
With little or no effort, I have found a dozen cotton bags which I have ironed and parcelled up. 

A gift from a Dorset Magpie to the London Magpies. The less stuff I have, the fewer bags I need to carry it in, after all. Thanks for the suggestion, Liz

One for sorrow, two for joy
Three for a girl and four for a boy
Five for silver, six for gold
Seven for a secret never to be told

Wednesday 17 March 2021

# Take A Stand

Every woman you know has taken a longer route

Has doubled back on herself

Has pretended to dawdle by a shop window

Has held her keys in her hand

Has made a fake phone call

Has rounded a corner and run

Every woman you know has walked home scared

Every woman you know

[written by Harriet Johnson, a London Barrister]

Yes, I've done those things, I have felt threatened and unsafe. And my heart aches when I read of Sarah Everard and other women who have been victims of sexual violence. And I am enraged when they have been blamed, because it was somehow 'their fault'. They were 'in the wrong clothes' - they 'didn't say NO loudly enough' - they 'didn't fight back' - they 'were asking for it' - they 'had been drinking' 
Last Saturday at 9.30, Bob and I stood outside, with a candle - a silent vigil to remember Sarah and to pray for her family. Our street was silent, sadly I saw no other lights.
The scenes on Clapham Common were distressing, and there are two sides to every story. I do not wish to apportion blame. 
But how can we raise awareness?  Why are people to blind to the statistics? Cressida Dick said it is 'incredibly rare' for a woman to be abducted from the streets - but appeared to gloss over the fact that a woman dies every other day because of male violence [most often in the home]
In these days of covid-19 it is really hard to gather together and show solidarity, and make a peaceful protest
A local photographer, Jayne Jackson,  here in Bournemouth is organising a people-free covid-safe Art Protest on Thursday - called "#Takeastand" she is planning to use shoes as a metaphor for standing up, and making a change. She did a really good interview on Radio Solent yesterday.
Jayne posted on social media asking for any unwanted shoes - and also for people to set up local drop-off points.
Which is why there is a labelled bin on our drive next to my car. I leafletted the whole road on Monday morning, and posted on two local FB groups and the bin has been filled and emptied twice already. Late Tuesday night someone delivered a large cardboard box holding 10 pairs, including some workboots. 
After the event, any shoes in good condition will go to the Shoe Aid Charity.  I am so grateful to those who are supporting this action.
Three things happened to me, in the 1970s, which I vividly remember. They taught me about vulnerability and victim shaming. That was half a century ago. How much has changed?
And even though I am busy trying to prepare a sermon for Sunday, and pack up my home for moving in April, this is a cause which I want to support. For my daughters, grand-daughter, nieces, friends...for every woman I know- and all those I don't.

Tuesday 16 March 2021

In Praise Of Meatloaf

In the 60s, when I watched American 'family' TV shows [Beverley Hillbillies, Dick Van Dyke, Bewitched, Green Acres...] the 'Moms' served meatloaf all the time, usually with beef. It didn't seem to feature much on English meal tables though. Occasionally my Mum would buy haslet from the butchers- which was a similar thing- minced pork, onions and breadcrumbs, usually sliced and served cold with potatoes and veg, or put into sandwiches. [haslet was originally made with offal, and gets its name from hastilles - the French word for entrails]

It is an excellent inexpensive meal, and a good way to use up freezer contents. I didn't have any beef mince, but there was a large yellow-stickered pack of turkey mince needing to be consume, and a tub of breadcrumbs. I took the recipe here as a base, and discussed the project with Bob over breakfast. We agreed there were problems with using the turkey mince

  • it can be a little bland and flavourless
  • it has less fat than beef, so can be a little dry
  • there wasn't quite enough to make up the weight in the recipe.
I had one slice of black pudding left, so I decided to chop that up finely and mix it in to add flavour. I had some suet in the cupboard, and a tbsp of that would add extra fat. These two additions would bring the weight up to the required 1½ lbs. 
But I have packed my loaf tins - so I created one with 4 sheets of tinfoil, shaped round a Tupperware box. I rolled and wrapped the corners firmly so it stayed in shape. Then I slid out the plastic box- and stood the 'tin' in 2 larger aluminium trays for stability.
It wasn't as deep as my loaf tin, but cooked beautifully alongside a couple of jacket spuds. It was shallower than my usual tin, and I served it straight from the pan, I didn't attempt to turn it out. But it was very tasty and served 6 generous portions.
In the 1980s I had Joscelyn Dimbleby's book which was an excellent source of thrifty recipes for all sorts of mince dishes. I have no idea where it went! But I definitely think it is time I started including meatloaf in my meal planning again. 
I am always amused by the fact that Meat Loaf, the singer, is a vegan!

Monday 15 March 2021

Surface Tension

The homekeeping experts all tell you to keep the bedroom calm and free of clutter to enable restful sleep. And in your kitchen, aim for clear worktops, so you have adequate room to prepare meals etc. Leaving Leicestershire was chaotic- my careful planning completely ruined by the burglary. That meant that I had to repack some of the boxes they had ripped open, and my pre-departure cleaning schedule' was abandoned [why spend precious time cleaning the kitchen cupboards which had been flooded and ruined, and were about to be ripped out and replaced?]

This time however, I hope I am better organised. I have one large box of charity shop donations and I am leaving that here, and asking a friend to deliver, once the CS are open again. In the bedroom therefore, the bedside units have gone, and Bob has The Box- I have a plastic crate. The crate will hold all the last minute bedroom stuff on Moving Day [except those lamps*]

All my kitchen cupboards, apart from two shelves [one for basic crockery, the other has tea and coffee supplies] are completely emptied and scrubbed clean. And I am afraid that the surfaces are definitely not clear and clutterfree! 

All my cleaning supplies are arranged along the windowsill. The chicken brick is still in regular use, but 95% of the time is being an impromptu fruit bowl. All cutlery is stored, next to the breadbin, in the basket from a defunct dishwasher. The saucepans and Le Creuset casseroles are living on the hob. 

And no I am not posting a photo of all that disorder! Bob admits that he finds the kitchen situation quite stressful - but I just do not want to spend time at the end of the box-packing and van-loading doing more cleaning. I am glad to get some of it done beforehand.

When we lived in the Midlands, I never got to visit Mr Straw's House, a remarkable NT property showing life in the first half of the last century. After his mother died, suddenly in 1939, William changed almost nothing in the house for the remainder of his life. I watched a documentary where the narrator said "He just lived on the surface altering as little as he could" - consequently the contents of cupboards and wardrobes remained untouched...

The reduction of kitchen items to the bare minimum, everything else packed, has been a useful exercise. I run the dishwasher after our meal each evening. Even for two of us, four forks is proving not quite enough for one day. I packed all my bakeware - but kept the aluminium dishes from a few ready meals and chickens to use in the oven. But why did I not leave myself a loaf tin? OK I have the breadmaker, in regular use - but I'd not realised how many meals I prepare, and cakes I bake, in the loaf tin. 

*The chrome one with the conical glass shade is very special. It came from Jim-next-door. He had it on the shelf behind his chair to shine a light over his shoulder when he was reading, and he gave it to me when he went into the home. He is 95 in a couple of months, and still going strong - but sadly I wont be able to visit and give him a goodbye hug before we leave.